Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
[Correction: This story states that the rough cost of not investing in companies that did business in South Africa was “between one million and two million dollars in each year of the policy, according to Welsh.” This is incorrect—the figure of “between one million and two million dollars” actually represents the cost over the entire life of the policy. The Gazette apologizes for the error.]
Last Friday, theswarthmorecampaign.com went live with an open petition urging Swarthmore to “divest fully from any entity that contributes to or supports the apartheid in Israel/Palestine,” including U.S. companies that do business in Israel, companies that manufacture military equipment used by Israel, and Israeli companies themselves.
The campaign is the brainchild of Chiara Ricciardone ’05 and husband Micah White ’04. The Gazette spoke to Ricciardone, who studied history and interpretation theory at Swarthmore and is currently a PhD student in Philosophy, Interpretation, and Culture at SUNY Binghamton. Ricciardone said that she was “feeling angry over the deaths in Gaza” when she read an article by Naomi Klein, which sparked the idea for the campaign.
With over 110 signatures from young alumni and current students, Ricciardone said she has been “overwhelmed with the positive response so far” but is hoping to be able to reach older alumni as well. Ricciardone continued, “an alumni structure has more durability … We won’t graduate and forget about it because to us this is a struggle for the meaning and reputation of our school.”
The alumni base is also important because the petition pledges “to withhold all future donations to Swarthmore until full and complete divestment is enacted and made public.”
“My feeling is that they want to do the right thing, but also have a responsibility to protect the school’s finances,” said Ricciardone of the Board of Managers. “The idea of the donation strike … [is that] we’re trying to convince them that Israeli divestment is not only ethically right but also financially right, that in this case they are one and the same thing.”
Asked about the wide-ranging call for divestment targets, Riccardone said, “while of course we are pushing for the fullest divestment possible, we are happy to work with the administration to arrive at a feasible divestment plan.”
The campaign is new enough that the organizers have not yet spoken with anyone in the college administration, but the Gazette spoke to College Treasurer Suzanne Welsh about the college’s general policy on ethically-motivated divestment.
Welsh explained that the Board of Managers would have to vote on any divestment plan, and that “as a matter of policy, the Investment Committee manages the endowment in order to yield the best long-term financial results, rather than to pursue social objectives.” She continued, “the college’s primary mission is to educate the students and that’s what our endowment should be used for primarily … Adopting a policy that would restrict investments for a different social purpose might detract from our primary mission.”
That said, “from time to time issues come along that are so compelling that exceptions have been made.” The best example here is Swarthmore’s 1986 decision to divest from South Africa in order to oppose apartheid, and Ricciardone acknowledged that the South African divestment was an inspiration for her campaign.
Welsh explained that during apartheid, the college tried only to invest in U.S. companies that adopted the Sullivan Principles of not supporting apartheid, but “as time went on that did not get resolved … [and] a full-scale divestment campaign was launched internationally to help to put pressure on the government.”
Multiple Swarthmore constituencies latched onto the campaign, which Welsh described as a “very divisive issue for the Board of Managers … Ultimately, a compromise was reached where the board agreed to divest from U.S. companies doing business in South Africa, but only if the cost of that decision could be quantified and charged to the annual budget each year.”
The Board felt that the extra cost should not be absorbed by the endowment, since “if it’s the current generation who want to make that decision, they should be willing to pay the cost … The people who were opposed would stand aside as long as that was the case.”
This meant that the rough cost of not investing in these companies was quantified—between one million and two million dollars in each year of the policy, according to Welsh—and was treated as a line item on the budget that had to be accounted for, making those funds unavailable for other needs.
More recently, students ran a campaign for the college to divest from the Sudan in 2005, but Welsh explained that this was a different case because it only involved foreign companies, which “we don’t invest in directly.”
“They’re part of a fund that we buy … [and] we don’t have any control over these funds… so it was sort of a moot point in that sense,” Welsh said.
Nevertheless, “we had discussions with several of the fund managers,” and also wrote a letter to the managers of the funds asking them to take Sudanese policies into account. Overall, “the holdings of companies were really minimal … We didn’t feel there was any significant exposure.”
Riccardone feels that “Israeli apartheid” is a compelling enough issue to be a good divestment choice for Swarthmore. “Swarthmore has a historic opportunity to make a name for themselves as the first institution to stand against apartheid in Israel. That will continue to attract the passionate and political students we want … [and] give us a reputation as a Quaker institution that doesn’t just talk, but actually invests in peace,” she said.
Furthermore, Riccardone feels that “American institutions especially should divest. For Muslims to see US citizens taking a stance against apartheid, that will do more to undermine support for terrorism than a war ever could … If we divest from the bulldozer companies, from the apartheid wall, those will be material and physical ways to help.”
I would be curious to know what they would want Israel to do to not be considered "apartheid". Give all the Palestinians, who don't think of themselves as Israeli, Israeli citizenship? Just stop existing?
They could start by correcting the graphic found with this story. "Swatties for Peace: Swarthmore Divest from Israel"? I want proper subject-verb agreement, or a comma to make it clearly imperative ("Swarthmore, Divest from Israel!"), or something else to make this make sense.
I'm afraid I'm with Ariel. I don't /quite/ see the parallels. I am unhappy with what is happening in Gaza…
But where is the parallel with apartheid? South Africa wasn't being bombed daily for the crime of existing. Unless I'm really uninformed, I see Israel's actions as being unfortunate – perhaps even worthy of disapproval and discouragement – but how is Israel profiting from its current circumstances? I don't think they are… and I think that their honest motivation is to defend themselves. I don't know if their actions are right, but I don't think I can judge this motivation to be wrong.
we should divest in all war/weapons related enterprises- i heard we are invested in lockheed martin. it's time we start putting our money where our mouth is —in prosocial and anti-war companies. We either should stop claiming and touting our Quaker roots— if on one of the biggest Quaker ideals of anti-war we are going to support war financially
I'm with Eric and Ariel on this one.
In response to Eric and Ariel, a good start would be to end the blockade of Gaza, allowing food and medical supplies– urgently needed– to get to people who need them. Surely, the distribution of land, permanent cessation of the conflict and a long-term peace process are important, but they are– as I wrote– long term goals. In the short term, Israel's blockade of Gaza needs to end. It's not a political issue, it's a humanitarian one.
Sure, I agree that there are humanitarian issues involved with Gaza. But there are humanitarian issues in Saudi Arabia and Iran, involving their treatment of gay men and all women. There are humanitarian issues in China, with their treatment of Tibet, as well as their restrictions on their own citizenry's access to information. I wish that Israel would take a more compassionate hand with Gaza, certainly, and I think that with Obama in the White House they will (they saw this past couple of months as basically free rein, with neither Bush nor Obama having enough power to stop them). Divestment is a big move and I think if we're going to start talking with our wallet, we need to be consistent about it and not hold Israel to a different standard than we hold other nations.
You're right, there are a plethora of human rights issues, and I agree with you that issues such as those in Tibet and Saudi do need to be addressed. But your argument is fallacious. You are stating that we cannot choose to make a stand on the Israel issue (I assume you would say the same about any one issue, since you appear to consider them morally equivalent) without taking an equal stand on all other issues.
This is clearly false– do you think that charities that support Darfur refugees are treating South American refugees unfairly? Is a program that grants interest-free loans to farmers in South Asia unfair to African farmers? The fact is, individual institutions must usually choose to address one humanitarian issue at a time, and this particular institution has chosen the situation in Gaza to address. By doing so, they are not holding Israel to a different standard than China or Saudi, but they are choosing to focus on that issue instead of others, due to limited resources. No one charity can combat every evil in the world.
This is turning out much longer than I intended, but I will end with this: I am not sure why the Ricciardones have chosen Gaza as their personal cause, but given the scope and variety of the many charities active in the US, there are relatively fewer that help the Palestinians, due to perceptions of terrorism and America's official support for Israel.
Divestment from Israel will not occur. The division over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in and outside of the Swarthmore is such that divestment would be contrary to the college's interests as a financial entity, an academic institution, and a pluralistic community.
It must be assumed that the campaign's founders and supporters must know this, and that the real purpose of their action is not to divest from Israel but to provide an outlet for the frustration with Israel's recent actions or the conflict in general.
This is legitimate and those opposed should take a minute to acknowledge that fact. In turn, the campaign's supporters ought to that any counter-campaign appears is equally justified.
I, for one, am pessimistic about the likelihood of either of those outcomes occurring and believe the only significant effect of this campaign will be to increase division within our community.
The difference between the institutions to which you're referring and a college like Swat is that a those charities are created to address a single issue. That issue is their raison d'etre, so to speak. That's not the case for Swat, or for more broad charities like the Red Cross. Swat's purpose is primarily to educate and secondarily to be a place of overall moral good standing, and I don't think that we can choose this single issue without damaging that. Divestment sends the message that we want Israel to stop doing something (what, according to the campaign, remains undetermined) and the idea that there would be peace in the region if only Israel would stop being so mean is a vast oversimplification that does a disservice to everyone involved. I would prefer that my college not take such a simplistic stand on such a complex and important issue.
Certainly supporters of the Palestinians are frustrated. Many supporters of Israel are similarly frustrated by the current situation — it gets very difficult to reasonably defend Israel to others when they act like they have the month. But what this campaign seems to be asking is that Swarthmore take a very firm and public stand that the entire conflict is due to Israeli aggression, and I have a *lot* of problems with that.
This "campaign" is irresponsible. I agree with Ariel and Eric's thoughts.
Ariel, I have to disagree with both of the points you've raised. Firstly, I think it's important to distinguish between BDS and Swarthmore. BDS is the group which has introduced this divestment initiative– that is in fact their raison d'etre. Their purpose is to encourage groups, such as Swarthmore, to cease support for Israel's current destructive policies. We are not a charitable organization- we are a college. However, when charities approach the school, we may choose to participate or not. Participation in such a charity may entail fundraising, or divestment, or some other means of support. When the charity buys mosquito nets or donates to Darfur, there is no moral ambiguity– here, there are people who disagree with the stated goals of the charity and thus we are having disagreements.
This leads nicely into my second objection. The fact is, the college is not obligated by any means to remain neutral in any matter– we have a moral imperative to act in a way we consider just. Whether or not we support divestment comes down to whether we, as a school, consider its aims moral– not whether or not we should be "allowed" to take such stands. The current Israeli-Palestinian conflict has many causes, and BDS does not attempt to address them. Nor are they calling for the abolition of Israel. Instead, they are calling on the Israeli government to cease their blockade, which is costing innocent lives, and to behave responsibly when resolving this conflict.
The idea that "there would be peace in the region if only Israel would stop being so mean" is a straw man, and I believe we as a college can rise above that level of debate. I think we can all agree that the current blockade is by no means a desirable state of affairs. I personally find fault with Israel's policies, and I consider them the aggressor in the current conflict and the one mostly at fault. I say this so that my position, if it was not already known, becomes clear. The Israeli government and military has repeatedly shown contempt for international law and human rights, and only the unquestioning support of AIPAC and strong special interest groups (some of which most assuredly do not have Israel's or America's best interests at heart) has allowed them to continue their reckless disregard for both human life and the peace process.
So, it seems to me, your third paragraph is basically arguing what you called my straw man — Israel is the aggressor, Israel is mostly at fault, Israel has shown contempt for human rights (whereas Hamas hasn't?). In other words, if Israel unilaterally changed its behavior, the conflict would end, or wouldn't have begun. For those unfamiliar with the recent history of the region of Israel, this is factually untrue. There was violence far before the establishment of the state of Israel, on the part of both Arabs and Jews, and that violence has continued almost uninterrupted ever since, on both sides. To name one side as the sole villain is, as I said, an extreme oversimplification.
As for the military action in Gaza this year, Israel has pulled its military out and has said that it will end the blockade when Hamas releases a soldier that they've been holding hostage for three years. In which case, your stated goals of BDS will have been met. At that point, will they stop calling for divestment? And if the end of the blockade is their sole interest, are they encouraging Hamas to release the soldier?
I didn't say anything about Swat being allowed or not to take stands. I definitely think we should take stands on moral issues, and strong ones. But I think that when we do so, we need to be consistent in our stands, rather than addressing one issue and staying silent on others. One's morality is not comprised of one's answer to a single moral question or solution to a single moral problem, but of the method or algorithm by which one answers all questions or solves all problems. Taking only one, very public, moral stand isn't an exercise of morality. It's showmanship.
Furthermore, I think that divestment in this case is not the moral response to this problem exactly because it does not recognize the full complexity of the situation. I do not propose that Swarthmore not take moral stands. I propose that Swarthmore take *better* moral stands.
this campaign seems to be filled with people who just don't like israel because they aren't the underdog. where is the outcry from you folks when suicide bombers attack? unfortunately hamas is full of cowards who hide themselves among civilians and allow their families to die with them. but israel has the right to defend itself and i think they have showed relative restraint until now.
if Hamas had nukes, do you think they would not use them on Israel? don't f— with the truck if you're only a jeep…
#14—while the suicide bombers are clearly pretty horrible, just look at the casualty numbers. The Israeli assault on Gaza ended up killing a LOT more people than the Palestinian rockets and suicide bombers did.
Does Israel's position suck? Yes. But if their only response to Hamas or any other hostile Palestinian group is to wage war, this conflict won't be over until one entire group is exterminated (and honestly, looking at maps and all … it seems like the Israelis are a bit more effective at this than the Palestinians are).
I'm not sure what the answer is. But leveling cities isn't it.
See, I have HUGE problems with the "BUT WHAT ABOUT HAMAS" arguments when people criticize Israel. Just, no. Hamas is not considered the shining beacon of democracy in the Middle East. Hamas does not get millions and millions of dollars of foreign aid. Hamas does not have the political clout to have tons of lobbyists working to promote its interests in the U.S. Capitol. Hamas is not the group that virtually every single elected American official has to pledge his/her allegiance to in order to get elected. Should I keep going? If Israel is going to get all of the privileges that come with being besties with the U.S, including my tax dollars, then I abso-fucking-lutely will hold them to a higher standard. Period.
And really, "Israel has the right to defend itself"– seriously? I don't understand where this paranoia about the PENDING COLLAPSE OF ISRAEL comes from. Has Israel lost a single war against the Arab states? Has Israel not managed to crush the homes and livelihoods of families of known suicide bombers? Does Israel not enjoy a drastically higher standard of living and prospering economy then Palestine could ever hope for? And if we're going to go ahead and be this crude, has Israel not FAR outmatched Hamas over and over again in civilian casualties? Can someone point me to a period in the last twenty or thirty years where Israel casualties were even close to Palestinian casualties? And does Israel not enjoy the backing of the most powerful military in the world? And if Israel is truly trying to defend itself, is the strategy that has been failing for the past several decades SOMEHOW going to all of the sudden start to work if they destroy just a few more settlements, kill just a few more Palestinians?
And in terms of Israel as apartheid, I'll quote from this article:
"Abunimah likened the situation to far-right fringes in states like California and Texas who feel that the growing Latino population is a demographic threat. "If Texas decided that it had the right to be a 'white' state, what measures would we accept for them to maintain that status? Expulsion? Selective birth control? Imposing economic sanctions on non-whites so that it is too difficult to live in Texas? Prohibit non-Whites who've left Texas from coming back?" he asked. Abunimah said that it was very difficult to imagine those things happening in the 21st century "Yet everything I have said is absolutely true about the state of Israel. Israel does not exist for its citizens, but for only one ethnic group."
Abunimah termed the military rule in Gaza and the West Bank as apartheid, which he defined in the Q+A as "having different laws for different people in the same state." He acknowledged that Israel allows its Palestinian citizens to vote, but said that this right is meaningless. "Israeli politicians boast that Palestinians can vote, but the act of voting doesn't mean that it will count, or that it will result in political power." He pointed to the fact that, though Israel has been in existence for 60 years, the only non-Jewish Palestinian to be put into office is a cabinet minister appointed this year. Abunimah says that there is disparity on every level- funding, education, health, public facilities, development projects. "A whole series of laws exist which are designed to discriminate between citizens who have 'special and better rights' and those who do not." He made reference to the Israel law of entry which will allow any person identifying as Jewish – "including a tribesman from the Andes in Peru" – to settle in Israel and be given housing, whereas a person born in the country – "such as my mother" forced out in 1948 – is not allowed to return to visit, let alone live there."
It's ridiculous for SWAT '10 to refer to concern for the "pending collapse of Israel" as paranoia and then in the same posting advocate for a one state solution.
Israel is not a secular state. It is a Jewish state. Even for self-identifying Jews, it is actually quite difficult to prove one's Jewish identity in applying for citizenship. Israel would not be Israel without its Jewishness, while Texas will still be Texas despite its changing demography. A one state solution would destroy Israel as a concept, and the idea that Israelis and Palestinians could live under one secular democratic government is a fantasy.
The “complex” and “look at everybody else” arguments just seem like an excuse to avoid properly condemning Israel.
As far as I’m concerned, Israel has done something extraordinarily irresponsible. There is nothing wrong with letting Israel know it.
Oh yeah, if some of you sooo concerned about China and Saudi Arabia. Why don’t you start a campaign against them too? Just to be fair.
"It's ridiculous for SWAT '10 to refer to concern for the "pending collapse of Israel" as paranoia and then in the same posting advocate for a one state solution."
Er, maybe it would be ridiculous if I was advocating that, but if you'll read my comment again, I was only posting that quote with reference to the lecture's comments on the status of Palestinians in Israel as apartheid. I *don't* agree with the conclusion he reaches re: one state solution.
<i>Israel would not be Israel without its Jewishness, while Texas will still be Texas despite its changing demography.</i>
So you're accepting that Israel actually *is* engaging in ethnic cleansing of Palestinians or apartheid or what-have-you and it must do this to maintain its "Jewishness"? Because, whoa. I hope not. When you have a land that is Palestinian (or has been for the last 100-200 years, plz no arguments about who it belonged to thousands of years ago) if only by sheer numbers, the only way to make it more Jewish is by getting rid of those Palestinians, and that is ethnic cleansing. And no end goal, be it a Jewish state or anything else, can justify that. International moral norms have moved beyond that, and for good reason.
Also, there are also a lot of people who DO believe that America = whiteness and Christianess, and who WOULD argue that Texas/America is not Texan/American when it's infiltrated with non-whiteness. What was it, Lou Dobbs who had said that "real Americans" should start birthin' because at the current rate the of-color population will outnumber the white population in X amount of years. Just because some people want America to be a white state doesn't mean that goal is ethically sound.
Yes, since its founding, Israel has been protecting its Jewishness by inviting Jews in and keeping Palestinians out. Surprise, Arab states have had the same exact policy of keeping out the Palestinians. Are they ethnically cleansing Palestinians, too? Lots of countries have immigration policies, but that's not the same as ethnic cleansing.
The UN General Assembly voted to create a "Jewish state" in order to have a home for Jews that would keep them safe from genocide. They didn't intend for Israel to be secular, or to be Jewish by accident. It's Jewish by design and sanctioned to be so by the UN.
Israel doesn't want an apartheid state. It wants a Jewish state with a Palestinian neighbor, a two state solution, and they've made generous offers. The Palestinians in Gaza are not part of Israel and no one is pretending this is a civil war. The apartheid argument just doesn't fit.
"Israel has been protecting its Jewishness by inviting Jews in and keeping Palestinians out."
Yes, well it does sound a lot simpler and nicer when you delete the the enormous physical, mental, and emotional trauma that provides the context for this expulsion. It has been a tremendously violent experience, both in the literal and emotional sense. And it IS expulsion. Not keeping out. It's expulsion.
You're right that ethnic cleansing is not the same as immigration. But you're conflating immigration with displacement. Lots of countries have immigration policies that create barriers for some people and make it easier for others to cross borders. That's very different from creating policies that displace the people who are ALREADY THERE. The analogue here is not other Arab states (who, by no means, are innocent here) and Palestinians, it's Native Americans and European settlers in the Americas.
Here's an honest question. I don't understand why making Israel a "Jewish state" necessarily means unequal and discriminatory policies against those who are not Jewish? Why is it impossible to create a Jewish state–a state that pledges to be a sanctuary for Jews around the world, to keep them free from oppression– that does not necessitate the oppression of another ethnic group?
You're talking about 1948, not 2009. Expulsion just isn't an issue now. Israeli Arabs aren't getting forced out of the country because of their race. Yes, Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank are being kept out of Israel, but there is an extremely important distinction between these two policies.
I think it's unproductive to approach the Israel-Palestine issue as if we are facing it ex ante in the 1940s. I'm no expert in the issue, but I bet most people think that if we had a time machine and could go back, things could have been done better. Calling the founding of Israel illegitimate is a questionable stance(how many countries were founded with a mandate from the UN anyway?) but it also won't get anyone closer to figuring out what should be done now that Israel has existed for 50 years.
As for your honest question, I think it's a legitimate one. I don't think a Jewish state can exist with an open border, but I don't see any reason it can't exist while treating minority citizens fairly. I'm not exactly sure what "unequal and discriminatory policies" you are referring to, but I assume you mean the treatment of Israeli Arabs, the non-Jewish citizens of Israel. I won't pretend to know what it's like to be an Israeli Arab but I doubt they are treated as full equals. Racism can be a problem everywhere, but I imagine its much worse when ethnic groups are fighting one another. If there is peace between Israel and a Palestinian state, I bet these Arab Israelis can be treated as equals with their fellow Jewish citizens.
Now, I'm going to unilaterally withdraw from this message board. I've been having interesting and productive conversations with Swatties on this issue in person, but I'm realizing the gazette just isn't the right forum for substantive debate.
-One of the reasons people don't start divestment campaigns from China and Saudi Arabia is because, quite simply, it would devastate the college financially. The same is true for divestment from Israel. The campaign wants to divest from all companies that do business in Israel. That's most major corporations in the U.S. There is no way to divest from any of these countries and keep our budget and our endowment to the level that is necessary to keep Swat in the upper echelon of schools. So, while some may consider divestment to be a worthy moral campaign, it basically entails suicide for Swarthmore as an institution.
-That land has never been "Palestinian". It was Jewish, it was Roman, it was Ottoman, and it was British, and now it's Jewish again. There have *always* been Jews there, and Jews started moving to that region in great numbers and legally buying land after Theodore Herzl started modern zionism in the 1800s. The land that was given as the state of Israel in 1948 was majority Jewish, legally. The "expulsion" that you're talking about was the gain of land by conquest in a war that Israel didn't start. Every single country has gained or lost land by conquest in war. In fact, you're right, one analogue is the US and the Native Americans, but *no one* is suggesting that we give back land to the Native Americans, and in fact Israel never tried to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians in the way that Americans did (smallpox blankets much?) to the Native Americans.
-My points about consistent treatment aren't about holding Israel to a higher standard than Hamas. They're about holding Israel to a higher standard than other *nations*, not terrorist groups. Again, what about China, what about Saudi Arabia, what about, in fact, ourselves?
-Racism in Israel against Israeli Arabs is a totally different question than how Israel deals with the Palestinians. Personally, I would say that since the Israeli Arabs haven't rioted recently that I know of, they're probably happier than the Arabs in France.
-While I'm not going to concede your point about "oppression of another ethnic group", the reason that a Jewish state has to consciously promote a majority Jewish population is because a lot of countries have pledged to be nice to Jews. And then they stop. Spain was great for Jews until Ferdinand and Isabella. A Jewish state has to be majority Jewish, and there just aren't enough Jews in the world to do that without tightly controlling immigration.
It is challenging to create dialog on a controversial issue when both sides are driven by both emotion and logic. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that emotion should be suppressed, or that those who are emotional cannot also be logical. Emotion can be a great motivator. But emotion can also be divisive, and it can create a sense of certainty that obscures complexity, and what appear to be acts of righteousness may turn out to be unjust. And if we in the Swarthmore community are so powerfully struck by emotion concerning the deaths in Gaza, how much harder must it be for those who live there with the daily experience of loss and the persistence of fear.
I would like to share a few thoughts with Alums like Chiara Ricciardone ‘05, who was “feeling angry over the deaths in Gaza” when she started an Israel Divestment Campaign, according to the Gazette’s recent article. I confess that I need your help, and an element of trust to hear me out, because it is not easy for me to write without emotional coloration, and so it must not be easy to read this without a similar filter. I can understand the justifiable anger that would come in response to an apartheid regime intentionally murdering hundreds of innocent civilians. But I do not see that as an accurate description of the situation, and so I do not agree with the set of actions that are proposed. I would appreciate your listening to my alternate perspective, and I will try to include caveats on my major points to avoid unnecessary disagreement.
I cannot understand the basis of the moral certainty needed to take this kind of action.
In my view, the Palestinian people who voted Hamas a majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council in January 2006 have some responsibility for electing a party that has the destruction of Israel in their charter, and thus some responsibility for a regime that has been regularly firing rockets with the intent of killing Israelis. Let me make some caveats: I don’t believe this means that the Palestinian people deserve whatever happens to them, and this does not absolve Israel from concerns about the morality of their actions. Comparing Hamas in Gaza with apartheid seems unfair to Nelson Mandela and the actions of his supporters.
I have heard the case made that a handful of Israeli deaths by rocket fire do not justify a counter-attack that kills hundreds of Palestinians. In my view, a single killing strikes not only the victim, but the whole community of family and friends. A hundred deaths does even more so. At the same time, if we were to be using utilitarian logic, shouldn’t we focus more on the roughly 9 million human beings who died in the last month from all causes, and target the root cause of the largest number of unjust civilian killings? To what degree are our emotions engaged not by the loss of life per se, but by the publicity given to this specific loss of life? That raises the questions of intent and responsibility for the civilian loss of life in Gaza.
I believe that the moral responsibility for civilian casualties is unclear. Israeli forces have far more military strength than Palestinian forces. In such asymmetrical warfare, a tactic of the forces with less military power is to take advantage of the killing of its civilians to exert political power. This can lead to the tactic of the weaker force basing its military capabilities in close proximity to civilian targets, either protecting those military capabilities or generating political power when counter-attacks miss the military targets and hit nearby civilian ones. To the degree that this has occurred, there is shared responsibility for civilian casualties (it would be a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, although it is unclear whether the Hamas government is a signatory).
If civilian deaths are a tactic being employed by Hamas, then this has direct relevance to actions such as an Israel Divestment Campaign at Swarthmore. To be clear, I do not know with certainty that this practice has been employed. But before taking action based on our moral revulsion for hundreds of civilian deaths, I would encourage you to consider the burden of proof that you set for yourselves, so that you are comfortable that your actions are not actually rewarding those responsible for some or all of the civilian casualties. And I would hope that you recognize that some people who disagree with your approach may be doing so because they do not have the same confidence in the moral justification for your proposed outcome.
The situation in Gaza is morally complex, and the stark reality of civilian deaths does not create clarity. I was encouraged by the words of Mideast envoy George Mitchell on Thursday: "There is no such thing as a conflict that can't be ended. Conflicts are created, conducted and sustained by human beings; they can be ended by human beings.” The situation in Israel is not equivalent to South Africa, but we can all hope it has the same potential as Northern Ireland. For those of us in the Swarthmore Community advocating an Israel Divestment Campaign, I would appreciate your consideration of the concerns I raise here.
Watch – when the chips are down, these people will eat each other! I'm just ahead of the curve.
I am somewhat concerned about Swarthmore implicitly supporting the present government of Israel, but frankly there are much bigger related issues. Such as the inability to donate money such that it will be invested with any ethical compunctions whatsoever, or the fact that Swarthmore is quite likely currently invested in companies that make bombs.
Divestment from Israel is a terrible, racist idea.
#27 – I'm sure divestment from South African businesses as the Mongomery bus boycott were "terrible, racist" ideas too?